The Messiah of Metropolis
The director of 'Superman Returns' confirms that the Christ story deeply influenced the film.
BY: Interview by Stephen Skelton
In one of his first interviews since the release of "Superman Returns," Bryan Singer reveals the biblical meaning behind the movie magic of "Superman Returns." Is that the Mary-and-Jesus pieta at the start of the film? Why is Lex Luthor's greatest crime in separating the "Father" from the "Son"? And just why are there two death-and-resurrection scenes in the movie? Singer discussed these and other questions with Steve Skelton, author of "The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero."
About "Superman Returns," Time magazine wrote, "Earlier versions of Superman stressed the hero's humanity.... The Singer version emphasizes his divinity... He is Earth's savior: Jesus Christ Superman." However, certainly Richard Donner's "Superman: The Movie" stressed the parallels to Christ. Do you see your version as different or similar in that regard?
It celebrates that notion. These stories are told in so many different ways. From Sunday School to pop culture. But if you're going to have lines like Marlon Brando saying, "I send them you--my only son," and they're being spoken with absolute seriousness, then when you carry it forward and you have him return after five years, face an immeasurable conflict and then... I mean, if you're going to tell that story, you've got to tell it all the way. You've got scourging at the pillar, the spear of destiny, death, resurrection--it's all there.
At the first of the movie, after Superman crashes back to Earth, he collapses into his mother's arms. The scene recalls the Renaissance images of the dead Jesus in Mary's arms.
Yes. The night of shooting that scene, Eva, Brandon and myself knew it was a mother cradling her son, but certainly an aspect [was of Mary and Jesus]. There were certain key frames that were very special, important to me artistically, and that was one that was very much inspired by that image.
Just as Superman is a Christ figure, do you see Lex Luthor as a Lucifer figure?
Yes. Because he doesn't care. He just cares about land. And he muses about billions of people being drowned. But he's very much the opposite of Superman.
There's another thing Marlon Brando says. It always felt very religiously allegorical to me. From the original film, the mother says, when they're putting the infant Kal-El in the space ship, she says, "He will be isolated. Alone." And Marlon Brando holds up this crystal and says, "He will not be alone. He will never be alone."
And that was the terrible thing that Lex Luthor did, the robbing of the crystals, it was just such a violation.
But he was finally alone. Superman was alone when the crystal was taken.
Again, the allegories. I don't want be the guy who says, "Why have you forsaken me?" [chuckles] But here in the Fortress of Solitude--and it's gone.
And that's what makes Lex Luthor such a wonderful villain, in comparison. There is no divinity to him. He is completely of the Earth. Now I'm not getting into the stuff I'd rather people discover as they watch the movie.
About another indelible scene: The New York Times wrote, "Superman... fights his foes in a scene that visually echoes the garden betrayal in 'The Passion of the Christ.'" Actually, I would put the imagery closer to Christ's march to the crucifixion. What were your influences for that scene?
The scourging at the pillar. Clearly. It was what it was.